The Tudor monarchy required each civil parish to care for its own poor. The Poor Law Act of 1601 introduced the first poor law records which were further supplemented by the Settlement Act of 1662. The period from 1601-1834 is referred to as the time of the “Old Poor Law.” The “New Poor Law” introduced in 1834 placed more emphasis on poor relief through regions known as Poor Law Unions, most of which established a workhouse.
The Old Poor Law involved such records as examination papers, bastardy bonds, settlement papers, removal orders, and apprenticeships of poor children. Such records will also be found recorded in the county court known as Quarter Sessions that had both original and appellate jurisdiction. Poor law records can be further supplemented by vestry minutes and churchwardens’ accounts. The types and number of records increased with the New Poor Law. For further information on the history of the poor laws and samples of a settlement paper and a removal order see The Workhouse and click on "The Old Poor Law."
The records of the Old Poor Law are particularly valuable for determining the father of an illegitimate child, tracing internal migration, and learning more about life for those receiving poor relief. The records are usually found today on the county level at their respective record offices. Unfortunately, the records do not always survive and may not be indexed. The records of the New Poor Law add admissions to and discharges from the workhouses as well as vital records on the inhabitants, who were also enumerated in each census by workhouse. From 1834-1890, the poor might have received assistance from the parish to migrate to British colonies. Records of those who were assisted to emigrate were kept by the Ministry of Health and will be found at the National Archives in Kew arranged by county and poor law union under the archival classification of MH 12.
To find the records of the Old Poor Law, search for both the parish and county in the FHL catalog under the subjects of “Poorhouses, poor law, etc.” and “Court records.” The table provided below outlines by county some of the major collections of poor law records and/or their indexes presently at the FHL. Where instructed below to type in a film number, it is easier to use the previous site at FamilySearch to see the entire collection of films.
|Cambridge||1604-1860 on 6 fiche,
6360269 or access a shorter version on-line at Cambridgeshire Family History Society.
|Derbyshire||Indexed Removal Orders, 1707-1865 in Quarter Sessions, type in film # 1702708 in FHL catalog||Printed index of bastardy cases in Qtr. Ses. 1682-1784 under FHL 942.51 N22mj|
|Essex||Qtr. Sessions Order Books,1651-1874, type in film number 853328||Settlement & Examination Papers,1574-1874 on fiche 6393983-6393984|
|Gloucester||On-Line, see probates for details|
|Huntingdon||Poor law recs. in Qtr. Ses.,1742-1842, 942.56 K2t & BYU film 599777, item 22|
|Kent||1707-1858 in Qtr. Ses., type in film #1656388|
|Leicester||1696-1900 in Qtr. Ses., type in film # 1469791 to see collection & 1517724 for an index||There is also a CD-ROM index for 1598-1940 on the parish level for Leicester and Rutland|
|Lincoln||Partial index, 942.53 N22L (also see below)|
|Northampton||Type in film # 1951805 in FHL catalog for details|
|Nottingham||1697-1861, type in film # 1526549 in FHL catalog|
|Rutland||In Qtr. Ses., film 1469461||See Leicester|
|Somerset||Type in film # 1702304|
|Surrey||1701-1799 in Qtr. Ses. on film 1278586, start with alpha. Index in FHL 942.21 P2sq (also see below)|
|Sussex||Et. Sussex, 942.25 H25s #1
Mid-Suss., 942.25 B4s v. 83
W. Suss. online 1662-1835
West Sussex County Council
For Old Poor Law records in England, start with the websites of the various county record offices for any on-line databases. Examples of such databases include:
All Counties, check periodically FindMyPast.co.uk and scroll down to the listings for Apprentices, Courts & Legal, and Workhouses and poor law. This is a fee site, but searches can be conducted without charge at the FHL and computers in the family history section of the BYU library.
Buckingham, start with the index from 1608 to 1864 that is available on the computer system of the FHL.
Essex, go to Essex Archives Online
Gloucester, see the above table.
Hertford, go to Hertfordshire.
Kent, go to Kent Genealogy and click on the “Quarter Sessions Index” at the left. Currently there are indexes for East Kent, 1682-1716, and West Kent, 1692-1713, 1734-1746 and 1758-1804.
Lincoln. Search as described at the start of this list under All Counties. There are apprenticeship records, 1618-1925, Settlement Examinations, 1721-1865, and Settlement Certificates 1675-1860.
London. A "comprehensive electronic edition of primary sources" entitled "London Lives 1690 to 1800: Crime, Poverty, and Social Policy in the Metropolis" is now online at London Lives. Also try the poor law records for London, 1834-1940, at Ancestry.
Oxford, go to Oxfordshire and use the search screen to access a personal name index to people in the poor law records, 1601-1861.
Stafford, go to Staffordshire for indexes to apprenticeships, 1600-1900 and workhouse admissions, 1834-1900.
Surrey, start with John Holland's index available on the computer system in the FHL.
Sussex, go to the Sussex Record Society and at the top of the screen under "Databases online" click on "Poor law database." The entries are for West Sussex. For East Sussex, use the online databases at the FHL. Start with the author box on the FHLC and type in the name of the compiler, Michael J. Burchall.
Wiltshire removal orders, 1670-1890, are online as described at the start of this list under All Counties
Then search the county section of GENUKI under the same subjects of “Poorhouses, poor law, etc.” and “Court records.” Also see Jeremy Gibson’s Specialist Indexes (FHL Reference 942 D27gj 2001 and BYU Religion/Family Reference CS 434 .G53x 2001)
To find the records of the New Poor Law, first determine the poor law union to which a parish belonged by searching the Union Finder Database. This site gives briefly the parish, poor law union, and where the records are to be found. For a more detailed listing of records, see Jeremy Gibson's Poor Law Union Records in four volumes (FHL 942 P37gj). Volume 4 also provides a listing of the unions and their parishes by county.